The Preeminent Moral Issue
A few days ago, an article appeared in the National Catholic Reporter, titled “How Joe Biden’s Catholic roots have shaped his public life.” (1) The writer’s stated objective for the article was to report on the campaign’s hopes that their candidate’s personal story and faith will offer a stark moral contrast to the other candidate.
As a member of the Catholic clergy, I cannot support or oppose a particular candidate or political party. Consequently, my response to this article here addresses the moral issue at stake in the article, not the candidate or the candidate’s party. I seek to present that response in a charitable but clear way.
Briefly reviewing the article (see link below for the full article), it related the campaign’s position that their candidate grew up with Catholic social doctrine which taught him to “ensure that all men and women are not only created equal but are treated equally.” The article also noted that “the candidate’s 2007 memoir, Promises to Keep, firmly situated him in the context of an Irish Catholic family and a working-class community that revolved around the family's religious practices.” It also stated that the candidate “credits those Catholic roots with teaching him the importance of the human dignity of all people, a core principle of Catholic social teaching.” These also “shaped his understanding of solidarity, especially with the poor and the working class, which he regularly cites when talking about job security and economic policy.”
The article then noted that the candidate’s current position on abortion is in sharp disagreement with many US Catholic bishops, and others. The article went on to quote the candidate as saying, "I accept my church's position on abortion. ... I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews." Herein is the deep moral issue that is at stake.
Catholic Social teachings begin with the statement: "The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred; and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. This belief is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching.”. [Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching, US Conf of Catholic Bishops, 2005] (2)
This principle then naturally leads us to principles such as: protection of human rights and the associated responsibilities; preference for the poor and vulnerable among us; recognizing the dignity of work; solidarity of the one human family, etc. These are many of the points the campaign states that their candidate strongly supports.
What we need to recognize, indeed it is essential to understanding the Church’s social teaching, is that these principles all derive from the foundation principle that human life is sacred. One cannot embrace the derivative social principles while rejecting the foundation principle that they stand on, namely that human life, all human life, is sacred. To reject this is not a matter of “disagreeing with the bishops.” It is a rejection of a central tenet of Catholic social teaching.
I did not get that impression when I read the article in the National Catholic Reporter. Indeed, it sounded to me like the article characterized the candidate’s position on abortion as an “oh-by-the-way” issue that should not detract from the candidate’s other positions on social issues.
This is not an “oh-by-the-way” issue, it is the preeminent moral issue of our times. It is not about imposing one’s personal beliefs on others. It is a guiding truth for all. We cannot support the taking of innocent lives in the womb and still call ourselves moral faith-guided people.
‘Till next time,
Dcn. Bob Evans
August 4, 2020
(2) see also: Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions, USCCB, 1998 and Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility, USCCB, 2003.